The Little Vampire Review

by Scott Renshaw (renshaw AT inconnect DOT com)
November 4th, 2000

(New Line)
Starring: Jonathan Lipnicki, Rollo Weeks, Richard E. Grant, Jim Carter, Alice Krige, Pamela Gidley, Tommy Hinkley, John Wood. Screenplay: Karey Kirkpatrick and Larry Wilson, based on the series of books by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg.
Producer: Richard Claus.
Director: Uli Edel.
MPAA Rating: PG (adult themes, mild profanity, violence) Running Time: 95 minutes.
Reviewed by Scott Renshaw.

    THE LITTLE VAMPIRE falls squarely in the center of the "family film" continuum -- a place few family films tend to occupy. On one end, we find those films that appeal to viewers of all ages with imagination and a lack of pandering (TOY STORY, E.T., BEAUTY AND THE BEAST). On the other end, we find those films that appeal either to marketing concerns (POKEMON, MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS) or toilet humor (most live-action Disney films of the last decade). True mediocrity in family filmmaking is quite a rarity, which makes THE LITTLE VAMPIRE an intriguing pop culture curiosity: It's a simple and whimsical tale that keeps flirting with inappropriateness.
    One-time JERRY MAGUIRE moppet Jonathan Lipnicki stars as Tony Thompson, an 8-year-old dragged by his parents (Tommy Hinkley and Pamela Gidley) from San Diego to Scotland for his dad's assignment designing a new golf course. As though bullying by his xenophobic schoolmates and being a Chargers fan were not horrifying enough, Tony discovers that his new hometown is filthy with vampires. Fortunately, they're a kinder, gentler vampire family that prefers to dine on bovine blood, and actually wishes to be rid of its curse. Among them is Rudolph (Rollo Weeks), a 309-year-old in the form of a 9-year-old who becomes Tony's pal. He also enlists Tony's help to find a lost artifact that can help the vampires regain their humanity -- provided nasty vampire-hunter Rookery (Jim Carter) doesn't find it first and use it to destroy them.

    Based on a popular series of children's books, THE LITTLE VAMPIRE comes complete with many of the standard set-ups of the family classics. Like the protagonists in E.T., THE IRON GIANT and A LITTLE PRINCESS, Tony is an isolated only child looking for a friend who finds that friend in an unexpected place. There are the expected scenes of Tony and his new vampire buddy getting back at his tormentors, as well as plenty of shots of the spiky-haired Lipnicki (who hasn't quite outgrown his cuteness yet) yelling "Wow!" and/or "Cool!" while being borne aloft by Rudolph. Jim Carter, in his Tex Cobb-circa-RAISING ARIZONA wardrobe, makes for a good nasty-comic villain, and the script (co-written by CHICKEN RUN and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH scribe Karey Kirkpatrick) includes at least a few clever lines like, "It's not easy for a father to hear, but your son is a blood-sucking fiend." Much of it is silly, but there's also a dark side that many of the better children's tales have always had.

    There's also a perplexing dose of questionable content. The entire concept of vampirism could be troubling enough for some children, but THE LITTLE VAMPIRE adds to it a strange sub-plot involving Rudolph's younger sister Anna (Anna Popplewell) and her crush on Tony. You see, Anna is a 307-year-old in a 7-year-old's body, making her advances slightly more sophisticated than giggles and goo-goo eyes. In fact, in one scene she sits on Tony's bed and -- in her best Lauren Bacall come-hither tones -- asks Tony, "You know how to whistle, don't you?" Though it's likely to go right over the heads of the very young, there's something icky about using a lascivious pre-pubescent as a punch line -- even ickier than the giant pasture patty dropped from the sky by a flying vampire cow during the film's "Far Side"-meets-John Hughes climax.

    It's not terribly surprising to find THE LITTLE VAMPIRE straying from the kid-friendly straight-and-narrow, considering it was directed by Uli Edel, the man behind such innocent entertainments as LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN and Madonna's 1993 sex stinker BODY OF EVIDENCE. Edel's pacing is fairly sluggish for a children's film, and the rest of it is a bit too bland for parents to get excited about. Yet there's still some fun adventure here, and it's not all designed to get its viewers to buy action figures. It's hard to know quite how enthusiastic to be about a family film that's occasionally pitched at the wrong crowd, but at least isn't stupid or actively offensive most of the time. And that, unfortunately, is a sad statement on "family" filmmaking in 2000: Simple mediocrity is starting to look pretty good.

    On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 bat boys: 5.

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